As only one week of competition remains in the first round of the World Cup, it is indeed time to take a look at the different permutations that affect that combinations going forward. Yes, one is hinting at the knock-outs and we have the quarter-finals first up where eight teams line-up for honours. As with any such tournament there are always pre-tournament favourites for such ties, just that the odd upset(s) unbalances the equation a bit. It all makes for interesting speculation as to what those four contests might be, played from March 23 onwards.
Group A: From the beginning itself, it was the simpler of the two groups. After all, with Zimbabwe, Canada and Kenya to play against, the rest four were expected to sail through easily. Yes the word upset would come up on more than one occasion, especially when Pakistan would be playing any of the minnows, and it nearly happened as well. But it was always going to be a gap too far to be bridged by these teams, for although they do possess the tenacity to surprise, they lack the audacity to win thereon.
As it stands on March 12, Sri Lanka are top of the group with 7 points, while New Zealand and Pakistan are second and third respectively with six points each, separated by run-rate. Australia stand at fourth with five points having played three matches, two less than Lanka and one less than both the Kiwis and the Pakistanis. Of course it won’t stay like this come the end of group stage. The Aussies take on Kenya, Canada and Pakistan in their last three games (in order), and it is anybody’s guess that they will be taking four points of them atleast. The last match is the one that will decide quite a bit though.
If Pakistan win (and they should also beat Zimbabwe), they will move to ten points which will lay onus on Sri Lanka to beat New Zealand in their last game. If the Lankans fail to achieve that, they stay on seven and perhaps will end up last. New Zealand will move to eight points and they are also to play Canada yet. So assuming two more points for them, that makes it ten points for the Kiwis and top of the group – a possibility highly unlikely until last week. Only Australia will be able to prevent them going top then, but for that they will need to beat Pakistan, winning all of their last three games. This is also reversed if Sri Lanka beat New Zealand in their final game.
So, assuming no upsets, the three likely scenarios are as follows: a) Pakistan win both their remaining matches, Australia win two, New Zealand win two and Sri Lanka lose their last game. b) Pakistan win only one, Australia win all their remaining last games, New Zealand win both and Sri Lanka lose to New Zealand. c) Pakistan win only one match of two remaining, Australia win all, New Zealand win against Canada but lose to Sri Lanka. On current form this is the most logical outcome and hence, the final four standings should be as follows: 1. Australia 2. Sri Lanka 3. New Zealand 4. Pakistan
Group B: This was always going to be the group of death and truth be told, Bangladesh were the team expected to create all the mess. That Ireland have also been involved in the works just shows their growth from the last tournament in West Indies. If the teams in the other group lacked the audacity to win, these two more than made up for it and we have had some pretty interesting games involving both these sides. Of course the vagaries of the other teams, especially the big four, India, South Africa, England and West Indies, have kept us busy too.
At the time of writing, India are locked in battle with the Proteas at Nagpur. And the table looks like this: India have seven points from four games, West Indies are second with six from four as well and England have played five matches for their four points. South Africa are fourth with four points from only three matches. Bangladesh too have four points but have played one extra game, while Ireland have two points from four matches. And let us not worry about Netherlands too much!
There are far too many possibilities herein. But the key battle is England’s clash with West Indies, which is also the former’s last game. And they need to win it, just to stay afloat. However winning alone will not guarantee them a place in the next round. They then depend on Bangladesh to not win both their remaining games, and if the Tigers do beat Netherlands and South Africa, it would nearly mean curtains for Andrew Strauss and his boys. To still move ahead then, they will have to pray hard that South Africa lose two of their three games. That would mean getting huge favours from India and Bangladesh for it is beyond the Dutch to beat the Proteas.
If England do lose to the West Indies, it will open the doors for Bangladesh as they will only need to beat Netherlands and then wait for NRR to decide between them and the English. If they win both their games, they are more or less through. Ireland meanwhile are more or less out of the picture but their brave displays so far mean that South Africa can’t take them lightly. It balances the equation in favour of West Indies - who after having won against Bangladesh comfortably - only need Bangladesh to lose one game. And in that situation, they can afford to lose both to England and India, and still go through.
If by some mix of slow pitches and hara-kiri, South Africa do lose to Bangladesh, who also beat Ireland, then India will have to win both their final games to not clash with England (who also win) on run-rate. So, the grub is that it will take a brave man to predict what might eventually happen in this group. And this is one’s take – England to win their last game, Bangladesh to lose one and win one, South Africa to win two, India to win two and West Indies to lose both their remaining matches. The
pecking order then would be: 1. India 2. South Africa 3. England 4. West Indies
This would mean the quarter-final line-up would be as follows: Australia v West Indies, Sri Lanka v England, South Africa v New Zealand and India v Pakistan. Now wouldn’t that be a treat?
© Cricket World 2011